Our View

Spies look to low-tech solutions

By From page A6 | July 26, 2013

The issue: Typewritten notes can’t be downloaded

With every keystroke, mouse click, phone call and download thought to be on the block for government surveillance, it’s good to know that low tech can still be an option for secure communications.

THE RUSSIAN newspapers Izvestia and Moscow Times both reported last week that the Federal Guard Service, responsible for protecting top officials as well as Kremlin communications, had recently ordered 20 Triumph Adler typewriters from Germany to thwart electronic snooping and dissemination of secret documents generated by computer in the era of WikiLeaks.

So, sources tell the papers, the agency is going back to producing more all-paper documents. Likewise, the Russian defense ministry and other security services supposedly have never succumbed to email and downloads, but stick to typewritten or even handwritten notes for sensitive matters.

Moreover, typewriters, like handwriting, leave unique signatures that can be traced back if a document created in that fashion is leaked. No doubt, if Russia continues to host former contract security analyst Edward Snowden for any length of time, Snowden might have time to go “old school” and trade in thumb drives for the fine art of reading typewriter ribbons and carbon paper (that’s where the CC — for carbon copy — on emails comes from).

Of course, just because a secret is never digital doesn’t mean it can’t be leaked or spied upon.

HISTORY IS FULL of examples of documents that wound up in hands the sender never intended, from the letters of Benedict Arnold selling out West Point to the British to a German telegram offering to return the Southwest to Mexico if it would attack during World War I to FBI-agent-turned-spy Robert Hanssen’s missives to his KGB handler.

Writing anything down is sharing it. And a secret shared can always be a secret told.

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